Posts filed under ‘dessert’
Western new year is over in a flash (or in some cases, prolonged only by an enduring post-party hangover), but Chinese New Year is celebrated over two weeks. I hadn’t really observed tradition this year (no relatives in London means there’s no bai neen for me – visiting houses to wish relatives good fortune and such) apart from making radish cake and giving my parents the requisite phone call on New Year’s day… ;-)
The last day of the Chinese New Year (the 15th day) is called yuen siu, also known as the lantern festival. In Hong Kong, Victoria Park would have no doubt been alight with massive lit floats and structures (though, I don’t think they did it last year…hmm!) and with children running rampant with (health and safety approved) plastic lanterns depicting the cartoon character du jour, though more traditionally one would carry paper lanterns lit with a single candle; another popular lantern is the ubiquitous bunny-shaped one, which is my personal favourite (though, I remember my childhood days when it was the epitome of cool to have a plastic Sailor Moon lantern.)
Families will also indulge in the making of and eating of tong yuen (湯圓), sweet glutinous dumplings. More of the latter, as modern times means most people would rather buy ready-made varieties from the supermarket chiller… but as someone who had never made tong yuen before, I can vouch for how easy it is to prepare in your own home! My black sesame filling is a tad rudimentary and not molten and silky like I prefer, but it definitely sated the craving for tong yuen on a chilly London night!
Black sesame tong yuen
Based on a recipe from Flavour and Fortune
For the black sesame filling
1 1/2 cups black sesame seeds
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup solid shortening (I substituted some unsalted butter, which probably contributes to a much richer taste).
For the dumplings
2 cups glutinous rice flour
3/4 cup hot water (approximately)
1. For the filling: place the sesame seeds into a dry pan and toast over a medium low heat until fragrant. Tip into a mini food processor and pulse until powder-like.
2. Mix in the icing sugar and knead in the shortening/butter until you get a well-mixed paste. (In reality I didn’t read the instructions thoroughly and bunged everything into the food processor. It worked okay but kneading by hand will probably make a smoother paste. My food processor isn’t very good either at ‘powderising’ the black sesame seeds, so my mixture was rather coarse.) Refrigerate until firm (again I didn’t do this as I didn’t have time – but this will make filling your tong yuen much easier as you can shape the filling into small balls and work the tong yuen dough around it).
4. For the dumplings: Sift the glutinous rice flour into a bowl and slowly add the water, stirring with long chopsticks until the mixture comes together to form a dough. Knead with your hands until smooth and elastic (you may not need all of the water – and this recipe is so simple, you can just add more rice flour or water as you need to get the right consistency).
5. Break off a small piece about the size of a 50p coin (smaller or bigger depending on how large you like your tong yuen to be – it’s easier to fill a bigger one though!). Roll between your palms to create a ball.
6. Now make an indentation in the middle of the ball and work, using your fingers, to make the hole deeper – forming a ‘cup’ if you will – large enough for a nice wodge of filling. If you’ve refrigerated your filling you can roll little bits into small balls and fit it inside the hole before drawing the edges together and rolling again into a smooth ball. With my slightly liquidy filling this proved more difficult, so I didn’t put as much into each ball as I would have liked! (And sometimes the filling leaked out… as you can see from some of the tong yuens in the background in the picture below!) I find it easier to pinch the open ends together and then draw the two corners together again before rolling. Roll between your palms until completely smooth.
7. Put a pan of water onto a rolling boil (gee, lots of rolling in this recipe…) and carefully drop the tong yuens in. They’re ready when they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and place into a serving bowl.
8. In a separate pan, bring more water to the boil and drop in one piece of rock sugar or peen tong (a brown slab of sugar, readily available in Chinese supermarkets) and a knob of ginger. Bring to the boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Taste. It should be lightly sweet and gingery but not syrupy. Ladle over the tong yuen and serve.
Ah, tofu. So versatile. Humble tofu, you take on the flavours of your neighbours with much gusto and much skill, making you the perfect ingredient for a damn good dish. You’re perfect stuffed with fish paste and fried, steamed with prawns and a smattering of fried garlic and spring onions, and miso soup would be lonely without your presence. Pockmarked Aunty Ma would have been a nobody without you. And yet you excel not only in your savoury incarnations, but in sweet delights.
Behold: the Tofu Fa (豆腐花). Silken tofu in a clear sweet soup.
A bit of exploring around the streets of Sham Shui Po today led us to this famed little shop specialising in tofu. Kung Wo Soybean Factory is one of the oldest companies in Hong Kong, having been established over a 100 years ago – in 1893, on Canton Road in Mong Kok. They’ve gotta be doing something right. And I shall testify for that – the 豆腐花 I had was seriously the best I’ve ever had – impossibly silky, melt in your mouth goodness. Smooth and fresh, with no hint of the bitterness that some tofu desserts still retain despite the copious amounts of sugar some vendors add to the soup. The clear soup was not too sweet, but sweet enough so that I, a promising future diabetic, didn’t need to help myself to spoonfuls of the yellow sugar laid out on the table in tubs. Perfectly warmed, though a cold version would have been excellent on a hot summer’s day. And at only $6HKD a pop, who can complain? Such a small price to pay for such deliciousness. Are you getting the hint yet, London?
Charming little place, but again – eat and go – grab a bag of the fried tofu ‘lumps’, or several blocks of fresh, silky tofu for dinner. The possibilities are endless. Apparently they do a mean soy bean milk as well, and their freshly pan-fried tofu with fish paste (diligently made to order) is to die for. There is a limit to how much tofu one can have in a day, though…
公和荳品廠 | Kung Wo Soybean Factory
118 Pei Ho St, Sham Shui Po
Tel: 2386 6871
Open daily 7am-9pm
MTR station: Sham Shui Po (Pei Ho St exit)
The Chinese really like their kei’s. It’s almost like the Cantonese version of the Japanese attachment of ‘-san’, except there’s a greater sense of closeness and familiarity when tacking ‘kei’ onto the end of something. It’s casual and homely.
Like snippets of a daydream, my recollections of my trip to Macau this August are hazy. But one look at the photos I took there and like some Pavlovian puppy, I start to salivate. How embarassing. Here are three of the best places I went to (though I only went to four, Solmar wasn’t really worth mentioning even though it claims to be the best, and the oldest, Portuguese restaurant in Macau).
I’m not as informed within the Hong Kong foodie world as I’d like to be – so it was only this past week that I finally made a visit to Xǐ Yàn Sweets down in Wanchai’s Wing Fung Street. All credit goes to my mom, who is always reeling off names of restaurants that I should try out, for varying reasons!
Xǐ Yàn Sweets is the brainchild of artist-come-restauranteur/chef Jacky Yu. The original Xǐ Yàn started in 2000 as a ‘private kitchen’, or speakeasy/underground restaurant, that are popular in Hong Kong. The menus change constantly and you eat what the chef decides to prepare that day, a good indicator that the food served will be fresh and seasonal. In fact, written at the bottom of the sample menu for the speakeasy is the following disclaimer:
Note : the menu may be subjected to slight changes if the chefs believe that certain ingredients available for the particular day is not as satisfactory for serving.
To find out more, check out a wonderfully written and comprehensive review of the original Xǐ Yàn over at Cha Xiu Bao!
The name of the establishment, Xǐ Yàn (囍宴), is a nod to the traditional Chinese wedding banquet, but the dishes couldn’t fall further from the rigid, set styles of banquet fare, where there will be one chosen regional cuisine throughout the entire course progression. The marriage, if you excuse the pun, of many different regional Asian cuisines at Xǐ Yàn means that in one night you’ll be able to sample delectable dishes ranging from sweet Japanese tomatoes with sesame sauce (which my tomato-aversive mother declared as the best she had ever tasted) to coconut chicken soup. A peek at the sample menu from their website also reveals dishes such as foie gras somen, tofu ice cream, and scallop on glutinous rice with olive & black bean paste – showing a true fusion of some of Asia’s best cuisines, with a slight Western/European touch.
It has been nearly a month since that fateful day when an email from DailyCandy.com arrived in my inbox, boasting of London’s next best gelataria. Having been confined to getting my gelato fix exclusively from Cafe Ciao on Charing Cross road, I was eager to sample Scoop’s authentic Italian gelato, made with the best Italian ingredients. So after an afternoon of mooching around the Tate Britain, I finally made a visit.
Well, actually, I had previously made two unsuccessful attempts to seek out Scoop this month, attempts of which were foiled only because I never noted down the address and just knew it was in the general vicinity of Covent Garden… So this time, I sketched a rough map in my diary to make sure I would find it.
Once you’re inside the door you’ll be greeted by a massive display of at least 15 flavours of gelato, all heaving and rolling (well, not actively, but you can almost see the movement) majestically in their containers; some drizzled with rich dark chocolate, some dotted with little crunchy biscuits. The interior is bright and cheery, decked out in orange walls and bright blue tables at the back (thought there are only three tables for seating. It’s a shame that there isn’t any al fresco seating!).
As the girl in front of me hummed and ahhed over her choices, I hovered around the glass case, eyes a-darting from gelato to gelato. I knew I had to get pistachio, my absolute favourite. But what else? Soon the woman behind the counter (who looked slightly frazzled) asked what I wanted. Going with the medium chocolate-nut cone, I chose pistachio, tiramisu, and Arabic coffee. It’s worth noting that the large cone will get you FIVE scoops! I had the medium one, which was 4 pounds (eep). A little word of advice: pick your favourite flavour last! My poor pistachio was buried deep within the cone, smooshed by the other two scoops; when in reality that was the first flavour I wanted to try. Indeed, think ahead, my friends…
The chocolate nut cone was scrumptious, but I think I will stick to a cup next time as I didn’t like how the sweetness of the cone interfered with the natural flavours of the gelato – as a result, while the entire thing was tasty, it was just err-ing on the side of being too sweet. I blame the chocolate (but it was so good…). The Arabic coffee flavour was amazing – earthy yet light at the same time, a world apart from regular coffee, which I assume is due to the flavour of cardamom (which I’ve never tasted before). Very good. The tiramisu in comparison was a little weak, which is probably my fault for choosing two flavours that share the coffee element. The Arabic coffee was stronger and so washed out the flavour of the tiramisu. Finally, after wolfing down the first two scoops, I finally reached my pistachio. I knew when it happened because that deliciously smooth, fragrant buttery nuttiness hit my tastebuds. Mmmmmmm, I sure do love pistachio. It was as great as I’d expected it to be – the pistachio gelato is, according to the website:
…uniquely made with pure pistachios from Bronte, a tiny Sicilian village known world wide for its limited pistachios production (once every two years). The volcanic soil of Sicily gives the pistachios a unique and delicious toasted flavour.
After smacking my lips with satisfaction, I decided that my visit wouldn’t be complete without a classic Italian cappucino – and I was particularly interested in how well it would be made. I’ve rarely ever had a truly GOOD cappucino in London – the coffee shops usually think that they can get away with a pitiful slick of airy foam on top of what is otherwise just a latte, what with all the milk added (read: all the milk that wasn’t bubbled into foam). So I went up to the counter and ordered one, also taking the opportunity to chat to Matteo. And he took the opportunity to proudly tell me that their gelato is freshly made each day, with the finest ingredients. I asked him what his favourite flavour was: “It changes, depending on my mood!”. In the meantime, his friend (who he has known forever from Tuscany) got to work preparing my cappucino.
My coffee though, was surprisingly underwhelming. It was no different from the pretend-cappucinos many cafes in London serve – the foam too airy, and it wasn’t even a centimetre thick. I’d drank most of the foam off even before I’d reached the halfway point! Shrugging and getting back to my newspaper, I thought, “at least the gelato was stellar…”
At this point Matteo came out from behind the bar and came over to my table and amicably started chatting to me. I can’t even remember how it started, but it was such a friendly gesture. He came over and pointed to the freezer to my left (filled with sundaes, cakes and puddings) and started telling me about the fantastic tasty things he was planning for Scoop – such as introducing more classic Italian desserts, as well as offering mini semifreddos, tiramisus, and so on. He really has a passion for Italian desserts, and clearly wants the whole of London to know more about them and eat them ;) Anyways, I just couldn’t leave without telling him about the mediocre cappucino – how would any self-respecting Italian allow the memory of a badly made coffee stay with a patron? Indeed, he looked slightly appalled and quickly spoke in rapid Italian to his mate, and before I could protest, they whipped me up another one, free of charge. Matteo said he was surprised that the first one turned out the way it did, because his friend owns a coffee shop in Italy. Every barista has his day I suppose!
The next cup was truly magnificent. Dense, creamy foam with little, even microscopic, air bubbles. Sitting haughtily, rising just slightly above the rim of the cup. Perfect. And the final mark of a great cappucino? When there’s still a layer of creamy foam sitting at the bottom of the cup after you’ve drained all the espresso. I was satisfied. I thanked the both of them, feeling just slightly embarassed that I’d made myself seem like such a demanding customer.
After more shop chat with Matteo, I took a few pictures and off I went, smiling. This is definitely going to be one of my usual haunts now. The fact that Matteo is so passionate about what he does, is dedicated to educating Londoners about Italian dessert, and genuinely cares about what his customers think and chats to you like an old friend, is truly commendable.
40 Shorts Gardens
Phone: 0207 2407 086